Monday, June 6, 2011

In which The Hungry Lady tries her hand at cooking.

Y'all.  I did it.  I cooked.  And the house is still standing.  I promise.

So here's the thing.  I don't cook if I can avoid it.  I'm pretty good with a microwave and with pasta, but other than that, I really have to try to get it right.  It's not that I can't cook.  I'm sure that I possess the skill set to complete a culinary masterpiece. I just really don't like to cook.  Because I don't like it, I get bored and get distracted, and then everything burns.  And I do mean everything.  I once burnt Minute Rice.  I got tired of waiting the 5 minutes for the rice to absorb the water, so I accidentally left it on the hot stove, walked away and forgot about it, and then it burned.  True story.

At any rate, I do my best to stay out of the kitchen unless absolutely necessary.  This past weekend, I couldn't avoid it.  I was going to a baby shower for some friends (congrats R & A!), and had volunteered to make a pasta salad.  Mostly because I haven't yet managed to screw up pasta (and yes, I'm knocking on wood), and veggies are pretty easy to cut up.  I decided to be ambitious and make a slightly more complicated salad. 

I got this recipe from my mom, who stole it from her cousin's wife, when she made it for a family get together.  So thanks, C, for passing this one along to Mom.  Here's your non-traditional pasta salad, complete with pictures, so you can WOW your friends at your next shindig.  I doubled the recipe, but the ingredients list is for one, normal sized pasta salad

1 can of French fried onions (I used a big can for the double portion)
1 small jar of roasted red peppers (I only used one for the double because I didn't want to overpower anything)
10 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled (I bought one pound of bacon, and it was perfect for the double size)
1 box of shaped pasta (I used 2 boxes of bow ties)
1 red onion (I used 1 giant onion for the double size.  I would use a small onion or half of a large one for a single)
1 bag salad (I used baby spinach.  I also used 1 bag for the double sized because I think that any more than that is way too much)
1 bottle Poppyseed salad dressing (I only used one bottle for the double because I don't like things too dressing-y)
3 cups cooked chicken, cubed (I used 5 boneless, skinless breasts because I had them in my freezer.  I didn't really cube them....I just kind of coarsely chopped)

How To
Step 1: Cook the bacon.  I put the entire pound of bacon on a foil-wrapped cookie sheet (easier clean-up!), and baked it in the oven on 400 for about 20 minutes.  It wasn't quite as crispy as I wanted, so I would cook it for longer next time.  I let the bacon cool for a bit, pulled it off the pan, and let it sit while I did everything else.  Then I crumbled it and added it to the salad.

Could have been crunchier, but that's ok.
Step 2: Cook the chicken.  I had 5 chicken breasts.  I stuck them in a baking dish and popped them in the oven for about 40 minutes on 350.  I suppose you could grill if you were feeling ambitious.  Or just pick up some precooked chicken from the grocery store if you're feeling lazy.  I let the chicken cool, and then just coarsely chopped it before adding it to the salad.

Step 3: Cook the pasta.  I put the pasta on while the chicken & bacon were cooking.  Drain it, rinse it in cold water, let it sit.  Easy enough.
Draining & rinsing half of my pasta
Step 4: Chop the onion & peppers.  Easily completed while waiting for the other ingredients to cook.  Dice both the onion & the peppers.  Use as much or as little as you like. I happen to really like red onion, so I used a lot.  
Just a little jar of peppers, but I might use more next time.

This was why I only used one onion.  It was huge.
Step 5: Assemble.  Make sure you have a large bowl.  I used a good size Rubbermaid container since I had a double batch and needed to transport it easily.  It was pretty full too.  Add the pasta, then the chicken, then the bacon, onion, and peppers..  Mix.   Slowly add the spinach, mixing a little as you go.  Once the spinach is in, add the dressing.  I added about 2/3 of a bottle, mixed it, and let it sit overnight.  I added the remainder of the bottle right before it was served.  Top with the fried onions (definitely wait on these until you're ready to serve....don't want them to get soggy).

The finished product, minus the fried onions.
Step 6: Dig in.  But be careful.  This stuff is addicting.  And delicious.

Overall, I think my foray into the cooking world went well.  At least 4 different people asked me how to make this, so I'm taking that as a good sign.  As far as I know, no one was violently ill after eating my salad, so good sign #2.  And there weren't many leftovers, so I assume people liked it.  Good sign #3.

If you end up deciding to make this, let me know how it goes. I'd be happy to post any variations or suggestions you might have.

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